TRIGGER WARNING: rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, depression and suicidal ideation
Rape has a longer lasting and more severe impact than other types of trauma. Without support, the after-effects of rape can lead survivors to consider suicide. This is a first-person testimony of how being raped affected the writer mentally, long after the physical effects had healed.
‘Both of the times I was raped, my body received treatment but my mind did not. A year after the first time it was a similar scenario but a different monster, and the second time there was a lot more blood. It is devastating how the body gets priority medical attention, as if the mind was not present the entire time, as if they don’t both require equal amounts of attention, as if they are not both experiencing the trauma.
‘With time, my pelvic pain stopped, and my swollen vaginal and throat tissue shrank back to normal. My wounds disappeared. I finished my PrEP prescription, and all my tests continually came back negative. My body was restored back to health every time. However, my mind had not been attended to even once.
‘I became an apparition of the girl I used to be, probably because I would have rather been dead than to live with the pain. When I finally found the words to reach out, the people I told did not believe me, or they could not handle my reality and consequently withdrew from me. Alcohol was a temporary escape. However, death offered a permanent solution, and I considered it.
‘“NO ONE DESERVES TO BE RAPED,” read the caption of Khensani Maseko’s last Instagram post. The image attached was of two dates; her birthday and the day she took her life. After allegedly being raped by her boyfriend in May 2018, the 23-year-old Rhodes University student reported the rape on Monday 30 July. Her family was notified. They visited the university for a meeting the following day and opted to take Khensani home. The university’s investigation and support team were due to meet with her the following Monday, but on Friday 3 August, Khensani died by suicide at home in Johannesburg. Multiple articles mention how Khensani’s behaviour had altered during the preceding months, yet nothing had been done to help her.
‘I am left reeling at how easily the pros of ending your life can seem to outweigh the cons. When I would make my lists, there would always be a reason to stay alive another day. I painfully grieved Khensani’s death because in this lifetime, she was unable to subdue the pain, and she was unable to get the healing she deserved.
‘On my journey, I realised that I had to be my own hero. As my body healed, I had to believe that my mind could also be restored back to health. I found online resources to help me understand what I was experiencing mentally, that there was a name for it. I had to understand how my mind was dealing with the trauma and find healthy coping mechanisms that actually suited my lifestyle. I attended a support group and just listened. I was not alone. Unable to afford consecutive therapy, I would hold onto the counselling I received.
‘I have learnt that healing takes time. Unfortunately, the mind is more complex [than the body] and it is a daily task. Every day requires the decision to be better and not be consumed by the darkness that lurks in the memories of these experiences. Forgetting does not seem to be a viable option, and I don’t think it ever will be. However, instead of longing to rest in peace, I decided to live in peace.’
Women who report their rapes will receive physical treatment and perhaps initial counselling immediately afterwards, but in the South African context, counselling and psychological services are often inadequate. Rape survivors often do not report at all, and are left to deal with the consequences alone.
Resources for survivors struggling with mental health and post-traumatic stress:
Rape Crisis 24 counselling: 021 447 9762
If you are suffering from after-effects of rape, like depression and suicidal thoughts, visit the South African Depression & Anxiety Group for free hotlines, resources and support. There are people willing to just listen and hopefully help you begin your healing.
If you are a student, here is a list of university resources available to survivors of sexual violence. Your university should also offer free counselling services to help you recover.